Saturday, November 04, 2006

Foster Youth Need Both Independence and Permanency

Independence and Permanency – Can Youth in Care Have Both?
Notes from It's My Life Conference 2006

*Please note: The panel was made up of very fortunate youth. If you are linked with a wonderful foster family, legalization might not constitute a big issue. Not everyone is that fortunate. It would have been interesting to also hear from non-Casey foster youth.

Ideal for youth in care to have:
1.) Lifelong family relationships
2.) Adequate preparation for adulthood

*Definition of “permanence:” remaining until the end; indestructible (a stable mind in a stable place)
*Definition of “independence:” capable of thinking or acting for one self

What is “family?”
Nebulous definition; “people who are there for you all the time”

Biological vs. “chosen” family
Some youth are never adopted or linked with a long-term foster family; some age out of residential facilities.

How important is a legal family? Adoption can provide a last name and legal rights

Supporting and establishing a "circle of support"
Who should be involved and when should it start? As soon as possible! Emphasize the importance at an early age. Search out people with whom young person feels comfortable.

Start networking and information gathering from the time that a youth enters foster care. This needs to be forethought, not an afterthought. Empower the young person and involve them in the thought process and decision-making.

Perhaps the young person isn’t ready to think about a permanent placement yet. They might have the mindset of: “Why work on permanence when I don’t even have a home?” It's a bad idea to wait until young person finds a permanent foster home because that might never happen.

Youth-in-care need an entire web of connections; not just one person. This could include a mentor, therapist, peers, fellow alumni... You can’t put all your eggs in one basket, because that person might die or move away.

Most representatives on the panel were approximately 17 years old. I really see the need for a continuum of ages (FCAA). What I have learned as a 33-year-old alumna of foster care is that permanence and independence can be tenuous and fragile:

1.) If there are no legal ties, support networks can drift apart over time (especially if you move out of state; which many people do when attending / graduating from college)

2.) You might have to re-establish a support network / safety net later on – so it’s important to build the skills to do that, not just once, but over and over again

Difficult to explain confusing relationships to people from traditional (“normal”) families… Tough questions; it can be seem unfair and painful to have to explain over and over… Uncomfortable to have to educate other people.

Measured disclosure: Foster youth and alumni often err on one side or the other; “over-share” vs. “’under-share.” If no success stories are told, negative stereotypes and stigmas will continue to exist. On the other hand, too much disclosure can make other people feel uncomfortable.

1.) For those who over-share: Consider utilizing discretion.

Realize that it is a risk whenever you share your story with other people. There are wolves and predators out there who might try to take advantage of you; they hear your story and assume you might be emotionally (and hence sexually) vulnerable.

A job interview might not be the best time to bring it up either. Try to keep a balanced, professional relationship at work, and don’t ask for special favors. At my job, I took time to prove myself before sharing that I had grown up in foster care.

2.) For those who under-share: Summon up your courage and wait for the right opportunity. Take one small step out of your comfort zone.

If the only thing that people see is negative behavior coming from foster youth and alumni, they will never have the opportunity to witness our strengths and success, and to open their minds.

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I think this workshop was very different for me. I've done many workshops where I've spoken at and this one was different. I think that it was good to have some otehr peopel that weren't Casey youth/almuni. I think that having different perspectives is good but I also think that an experience from the east coast to the west coast is very different. I was glad to hear from some oen that is from California but his experience was really different b/c california is much bigger and its easier for youth to fall through the cracks.

It was wonderful to meet you at the It's My Life conference!

Good point about the east coast/west coast thing.

Part of the reason I am so passionate about Foster Care Alumni of America is how inconsistently each state (and sometimes in states like Ohio, each county) interprets federal law when it comes to foster care.

This was my first IML conference, and my favorite part wasn't the workshops (although they were good), but the connections I made and the experiences that foster youth and alumni shared with one another.

You are definitely right about California; they have over 80,000 youth in foster care with about 4,000 turning 18 each year.

12,000 of these foster youth reside in group homes, and are at high-risk of aging out of care without ever making a long-term connection with a safe and caring adult.


PS: Sources of this information:

1.) California Alliance of Child and Family Services press release, Nov. 1, 2006

2.) Khánh, Truong Phoc (Mercury News staff writer) Safety net for ex-foster kids.
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